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Yacouba Sawadogo: “the man who stopped the desert”


Mr. Yacouba Sawadogo from Burkina Faso is one of this year’s winners of the Right Livelihood Award. He was selected as a laureate for his efforts to reverse desertification using an ancient farming technique known as « zai » – pits dug in hardened soil that concentrate water and nutrients, allowing trees and crops to withstand drought. The Right Livelihood Award is announced in Stockholm every year, a tradition going back to 1980, and is often considered as the Alternative Nobel Price. The Award has no specific categories but serves to recognize the achievements of people who struggle for a better future.

Mr. Yacouba Sawadogo’s restoration initiative started in the 80’s during a phase of severe drought and has grown much bigger over time. At first, he faced resistance and scepticism from a part of the local community (his forest was set on fire for example), but he kept working on his project. Later, he also organized workshops for thousands of visitors in order to share his knowledge and vision about protecting the environment and supporting local farmers to increase their food security.

As a result, tens of thousands of hectares of degraded land have been restored to productivity in Burkina Faso and Niger. This has helped local community and especially farmers to adapt to climate change and prevent local resource and water related conflicts.

For more information:

Trailer of the documentary ‘The Man Who Stopped the Desert’ (from 2010 – about the life of Yacouba and the success of his work)

A short documentary (12 minutes) about Yacouba at the UNCCD COP in Korea in 2011.


Author: BiomassNet team